Public Sector Connect held two well attended conferences in Leeds and London in July, bringing buyers and suppliers together to share ideas and discuss the timing and scope of the NHS WiFi programme. Some 300 attendees at the event, chaired by Innopsis, heard updates from the Programme Director, David Corbett along with Paul Weiser from Crown Commercial Service and industry and buyer representatives.

What Is NHS WiFi For?

The original concept behind NHS WiFi is simple: provide free internet access to the public in every NHS building. It’s been a Government commitment for a number of years, and the recent election hasn’t changed the ambition. The programme has extended the original plan to incorporate three different types of WiFi connectivity:

  1. for members of the public,
  2. for visiting clinicians
  3. for staff access.

At its simplest, NHS WiFi will provide a route for patients and the people supporting them to quickly access relevant information when they enter a building. Or Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. But all attendees were clear that there were multiple potential uses. The infrastructure that is required to deliver public access wi-fi can do so much more. Presenters including Egton, O2, Wifi Spark and VirginMedia set out use cases including:

  • Using WiFi infrastructure to provide backup and resilience for a hospital’s core data network
  • Enabling improvements in patient flow by finding out where delays are occurring and optimizing the use of resources
  • Simplifying common processes like collecting repeat prescriptions
  • Providing secure wi-fi that allows clinicians to access up to date information whilst doing ward rounds

Innopsis outlined some of the key lessons learned from industry’s experience of implementing public access wi-fi. Many of the original business cases turned out to be wrong – who goes to an internet café any more? But as the number of wi-fi hotspots has increased, so too have the benefits to users. The same is likely to be true for the NHS.

The Pilot is Over

Dave Corbett provided an update on the 16 pilot programmes that have been undertaken across the country.  There was lively discussion both during the plenary sessions and during the breaks about the challenges and benefits that these pilots had uncovered.

A common theme was the need to get the scope of the requirement right. Some pilot schemes had focused solely on the “core” requirement of public access wi-fi, others had integrated the requirement with wider objectives to refresh and improve the infrastructure in anticipation of the rollout of HSCN. Similarly, there was keen debate about the user experience and how trusts should manage user registration and integrate patient information services into the process.

Of course, funding and how to build the supporting business case was also discussed. It was clear that one size wouldn’t fit all. Each STP or trust would need to develop an approach based on their particular circumstances. But NHS Digital and CCS did share an updated set of guidance, toolkits and templates to make the process easier.

Procurement Plans

Over the next 6-12 months there will be multiple procurements launched to deliver NHS Wifi across the country. Buyers have a range of choices over how to do this, including use of existing Local Procurement Frameworks, RM1045, G-Cloud and the upcoming HSCN Framework. What is clear is that there is a vibrant supplier market ready to respond to the challenge and help play its part in improving the patient experience.

You can find more information on the programme itself from NHS Digital on https://digital.nhs.uk/nhs-wi-fi.

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